Baggage: Week 4 - Released From Our Baggage

I know about depression. 

Several years ago, I was struggling with direction and purpose and found myself angry most of the time.  I also found that I didn't really want to muster the energy to do the most basic things--like get out of bed or go to work or to school.  

I spent a lot of time playing video games and sleeping.  When I had to, I would "gird up my loins" as the Bible puts it, and be present where I was supposed to be present.  And then I would be exhausted. 

Finally, I decided to see a therapist.  I didn't tell anyone that I knew except for my wife, who basically gave me an ultimatum before I agreed to go.  She'd had enough, and I didn't blame her.  I saw a therapist once a week for a year.  I missed a few sessions in the beginning and he had to get tough with me.  When he threatened not to see me again if I blew off another session, I buckled down and saw it through to the end.  At the end of that year I discovered that I finally had the tools to really be honest with myself about myself.  I also knew that I wouldn't always use them.  But they were there, nonetheless.  It wasn't long before I found myself following God's call into the ministry and making all sorts of sweeping, adventurous changes that I would have never tried in my former state. 

Before I started therapy, however, I took this long test where I answered like 400 questions or more about how I was feeling.  When he analyzed my answers, my therapist showed me a graph.  Some of the squiggly lines of my graph ducked below the line that split the page down the middle.  He told me that some dipping was natural, but that I had some dipping that went a little too low, and this dipping told him that I was a depressed. 

I didn't need a squiggly, dipping line to tell me that, but there you go. 

The thing about depression, I learned, is that it's a kind of anger.  Sometimes the anger is expressed with rage, but most often it's pretty much what happened to me: loss of interest, loss of pleasure, guilty, low self worth, low energy, poor concentration.  

Depression is what happens when our anger turns inward. 

I was working as the only full time staff member of a church when I was going through my therapy and my struggles with depression.  I told exactly no one about my issue.  I didn't want them to think that I didn't have my act together.  I suppose I was motivated to keep mum because of my church experience. I learned during a lifetime of church-going that there was no such thing as depression.  If you felt depressed it was only because you weren't a very good Christian, and needed to get right with Jesus.  

I asked a question on the Baggage website recently, "Does the Church have a good track record handling Depression?" The response was not good.  This one was especially disturbing: 
“Struggling with a serious bout of depression [a young woman on a church staff] asked the senior Pastor for a short break to get some help. She was told that he didn't believe depression was an illness but rather an attack of the enemy so she needed to spend more time in prayer. Instead, in a moment of quiet desperation, she took her own life."
What is up with the Church, anyway?  Why do we get so many things wrong, and then try to pass them off as right?  Don't any of these people who call themselves Christians ever read the Bible?

There is this book in the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament, called Lamentations.  The book is attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed some fairly terrible things in ancient Israel.  The voices who speak in Lamentations are crying out to God in the aftermath of some horrible devastation.  

And they are not holding back... read this: 

I am the man who has seen affliction
       by the rod of his wrath.
 He has driven me away and made me walk
       in darkness rather than light;
 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
       again and again, all day long.
 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
       and has broken my bones.
 He has besieged me and surrounded me
       with bitterness and hardship.
 He has made me dwell in darkness
       like those long dead.
 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
       he has weighed me down with chains.
 Even when I call out or cry for help,
       he shuts out my prayer...

The voices in Lamentations are angry.  They rail against the Divine, and against the way they have contributed to their own demise.  Their anger is outward and inward.  These are the mad scribblings of someone who is filled with depression.  And this is part of a rich religious heritage that those who call themselves Christians claim, and yet refuse to embrace.  

According to the World Health Organization, depression affects 121 million people worldwide.  850,000 people die every year from depression related suicide.  It is the leading cause of disability in the world--because depression directly affects your physical well-being as well.  It is the leading contributor to the global burden of disease, and it is the 2nd leading contributor to Disability Adjusted Years--which means it causes early death.  

And still the Church struggles to acknowledge or talk about it.  

There are some lies that the Enemy, the Devil, Satan--whatever you want to call the Evil that twists and distorts what is good---perpetrates in the Church.  

Lie #1 - This World Is Not My Home Theology:  Some people just sit around pining for the next thing--the afterlife--Heaven, whatever.  They see their own present as messed up and broken and unable to be put back together and they fix their gaze upon some far away place where all of their pain and worry will be taken away.  Christians even sing songs that say things like, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through..."  The Apostle Paul, the 1st century's greatest scholar, believed in the Now as much as he believed in The Not Yet.  He believe that the kingdom of God was coming, but that it was already breaking through into the present.  He believed that there would come a day when those who followed Jesus would be made right in God's presence, and he believed that they were being made right in this very moment.  

I asked our men's Bible study group the other night what we should do between the Now and the Not Yet.  Our only homeless church member paused for a second and softly said, "Live."  


Lie #2 - Yank Those Bootstraps Theology: Turn on the TV and you will probably in short order find a self-help guru of some sort preaching a self-help gospel.  You are told over and over again in a thousand different ways every day that you are in charge of your own destiny, that all you need to do is adopt the right program, read the right book, join the right group and you will find peace and fulfillment.  The Apostle Paul believed that such an outlook was folly.  He wrote in Romans chapter 5 that, first of all, there is no way to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps if you are struggling with the ways you fall short.  Similarly, Christians shouldn't take to patting their own backs for the redemption and renewal that comes from God through belief in Jesus.  BUT we can take comfort in the fact that because it's all about God and not about me, that I don't have to worry about "fixing myself."  He essentially says this, "If God reached out to us by sending his Son to be obedient to death, and to redeem us before we knew him... How much more will he do for us now that we are 'in' Jesus and are God's children?"  

How much indeed?   

In that vein, it's okay to ask for help.  It's okay to be broken.  God sends people into our lives to hold us up when we are weary.  God sends healing in many forms.  There are modes of healing that we may sometimes need to balance the imbalanced chemicals in our mind.  As long as prescriptions from caring physicians and psychiatrists are used properly and in moderation they are not evil, or signs of a weak and anemic faith.  God also gives us the gift of faith when we are in short supply of it--if we are courageous enough to open up to God in our frailty and when we are most vulnerable.

In Lamentations, the author cries out in despair and anger, to be sure.  But in the midst of those cries of despair, we suddenly hear these words of barely-whispered hope:

Yet this I call to mind
       and therefore I have hope:
 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
       for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
       great is your faithfulness.
 I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
       therefore I will wait for him."
 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
       to the one who seeks him;
 it is good to wait quietly
       for the salvation of the LORD.


  1. Check out the new release from Amy Grant... Better than a Hallelujah
    God loves a lullaby
    In a mothers tears in the dead of night
    Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
    God loves the drunkards cry,
    The soldiers plea not to let him die
    Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

    We pour out our miseries
    God just hears a melody
    Beautiful the mess we are
    The honest cries of breaking hearts
    Are better than a Hallelujah.

    The woman holding on for life,
    The dying man giving up the fight
    Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
    The tears of shame for what's been done,
    The silence when the words won't come
    Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

    Better than a church bell ringing,
    Better than a choir singing out, singing out.

  2. I love seeing the Church explore depression. There are people out there that do not get that depression is an illness, a chemical imbalance in the brain. Time and time again I hear people say to me: 'what have you got to be depressed about? Your life is so full of blessings.'
    Blessed or not, there are times my life SUCKS and I HATE it. I have been up and down in the past 12 years more times than I can count on one hand. Fortunately, I have a husband that at least gets depression. He knows the signs and I am starting to learn them. Anger is my BIGGEST issue....My meds change every couple of years and I am getting that feeling again....
    More people need to get it.....


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